January 4, 2021

Senate Votes to Nearly Double Funding for National Estuary Program

Five-year NEP reauthorization passes Senate and heads to President’s desk

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Tom Carper (D-DE) today announced that legislation to reauthorize the National Estuary Program (NEP) at nearly double its previous annual funding levels passed the Senate yesterday. The legislation previously passed the House of Representatives and now heads to the President’s desk. The NEP was first established in 1987 by the late Senator John Chafee (R-RI) to protect and restore estuarine habitats threatened by pollution and overdevelopment.

“Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay exemplifies how important a healthy estuary is to the protection and economic wellbeing of the surrounding communities,” said Whitehouse, who is a member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works and serves as co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Oceans Caucus. “With estuaries under increased threat from climate change, I’m very pleased that the Senate has approved our proposal to nearly double federal funding for the National Estuary Program. Senator John Chafee would be proud of the Senate’s bipartisan stewardship of our national estuaries today.”

Authorization for the NEP had been set to expire in 2021. The new legislation provides authorization for the NEP at $50 million per year for five years beginning in 2022, up from $26.5 million annually in the previous reauthorization.

An estuary is a partially enclosed, coastal body of water where freshwater from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean. Estuarine regions of the United States contribute considerably to the national economy. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, estuary regions cover only 13 percent of the land area of the continental United States, but make up nearly half of the country’s economic output.

Mike Gerel, Program Director of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program said, “National Estuary Programs were founded on the idea that it is best for local people to decide how to address challenges facing their estuary. Last night’s bipartisan action will provide more support for people in Rhode Island and Massachusetts working to bring clean water, productive habitats, and sustainable economic opportunities to our region.”

Estuaries are facing considerable threats. It is estimated that the United States lost more than half of the wetlands that existed in the Thirteen Colonies by the 1980s. Many bays that once constituted important fisheries are now considered “dead zones” filled with nutrient pollution, chemical wastes, harmful algae, and marine debris.

Representatives Tom Malinowski (D-NJ-7), Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX-7), and Garret Graves (R-LA-6) sponsored the legislation in the House.

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